I arrived at Kilimanjaro International Airport at 7:40 PM on the evening of Monday, August 3, 2015, after enduring a 15 hour flight from John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York that included a stopover in Amsterdam. Members of the climb team received a warm welcome from airport ambassadors of the outfit sponsoring the climb to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. After clearing customs we were transported by Land Rovers to Kia Lodge, a resort in Arusha, a few minutes’ drive from the airport where we spent the night in splendid accommodations that provided hot water showers and excellent food.
After breakfast on Tuesday morning a trek briefing was conducted by the head guide of the climb team and his able assistants, to ensure that each trekker had all of the necessary the equipment that would enable them to successfully attain to the summit of the mountain.
After lunch we were transported by Land Rovers to Kambi ya Tembo, a 14, 000 private Sinya concession bordering Kenya that afforded spectacular landscapes with magnificent views of Kilimanjaro. We took the day to acclimatize and were treated to a walking safari by a Maasi guide employed by the concession. We were educated us about traditional uses of plants for medicine and familiarized with the track signs of animals. During the safari we spotted zebras, giraffes and other animals that freely move back and forth across the border between the two countries. Later in the evening we were treated to a delicious dinner and as much liquid refreshment that our hearts desired. We spent the second night in comfortable bungalows that again provided hot showers and excellent facilities.
After breakfast on Wednesday morning, we weighed our duffle bags to ensure that each bag met the 33 lb limit that porters are allowed by law to carry. After completing this assignment we received a hearty send off by staff members of the lodge who serenaded us with native songs before we boarded the vehicles that took us to the location where we initiated registration formalities for the climb.
Scores of acacia tress flashed by as I excitedly peered out the windows of the vehicle. The unpaved dirt road on the Sinya Concession was pot-holed, making for a bumpy ride. But no one complained. It was part of the adventure. The driver of the vehicle jokingly referred to it as an African massage road. Maasai adorned in brightly-colored tunics of purple and red, tending cattle in savannahs, waved at us from a distance as we passed by. We occasionally drove past Maasi bomas with cornfields close by with yellow sunflowers growing alongside the corn stalks.
After driving for a while the scenery changed. Instead of acacias, banana groves zipped by. We drove through tiny villages where little children waved at us as we passed by. Farmers bagged carrots and potatoes alongside the roadway after harvesting them from the fertile soil of the cultivated area.
We were currently on the lower slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro in Northern Tanzania travelling to the Londorosci Gate in Kilimanjaro National Park to initiate registration formalities for a climb to the summit of Kilimanjaro, and become acquainted with the guides and porters that would accompany me and my teammates on the trip. The first official weighing of gear took place at this location. After registration formalities were completed we returned to the vehicles and were transported to the trail head. After arriving at start point for the western approach to the summit, we were treated to a sumptuous meal, and shortly thereafter began climbing.
The trail head began in a lush rain forest after leaving cultivated areas. This was the first discernible change in the five climate zones that trekkers would experience on the way to the summit of Kilimanjaro.
The incline was initially quite easy but the guide who took the lead for the first day of trekking made sure that we maintained a slow pace. It was a clear day and shafts of sunlight shot through the thick green canopy like slivers of glistening silver. Moss and lichens clung to the trees and the carpet of thick undergrowth concealed the forest floor. Black and white monkeys ran across the ground and frolicked in the trees. It was an incredibly beautiful day, not too hot and not too cold. The forest had a mystical and welcoming feel about it. My spirit was in reverie. I took note of the fact that I was actually on Mount Kilimanjaro. I thought to myself that it was the only place on earth that I wanted to be at that point in time.
We were constantly reminded by the head guide or one of his assistants to drink at least three liters of water daily in order to stay hydrated. And in reminding us to maintain a slow pace as we continued to acclimate they would occasionally shout “Pole pole,” meaning slowly, slowly. Porters passed by at break-neck speed, balancing enormous loads on their heads as they raced ahead to set up camp in the forest. The trail was muddy and got steeper as we moved ahead. Everyone was in good spirits. We took frequent rest breaks, but the guides made sure that they were not too long.
My heart galloped in my chest like a racehorse as it adjusted to the rigorous routine. My right leg began to cramp after a few hours of climbing. I was concerned that if the condition persisted I could be placed at a disability as it pertained to attaining to the summit. As such, I drank lots of water to stay hydrated and prevent the cramping from getting worse.
After about four hours trekking we arrived at the first camp in the forest. We had climbed to 9, 281 feet. Tents were set up by the porters who raced ahead and upon entering camp we were greeted with a cheerful song. The gesture was unexpected and provided a welcoming touch. At the conclusion of the welcome we were directed to our tents which had our duffle bags stored in them. We were then provided with basins of warm water to freshen up. After freshening up we were treated to warm cups of Tanzanian coffee or tea. Trekkers were required to register with park rangers after arriving at camp. This would be the evening routine for the entire journey. After registration formalities were completed we were treated to dinner in the dining tent. After dinner we received the first nightly briefing which was conducted by the chief guide and his able assistants. During the briefing the oxygen level of each trekker was recorded. And at the conclusion of the briefing we made our way to our tents for a much needed sleep.
On or about 5:00 AM on Thursday morning the howling of monkeys echoed through the velvet darkness of the forest. The chorus of howling was nature’s wake up call, indicating that it would soon be time to get out of our sleeping bags and prepare for day’s events. About a half hour later a voice from outside the tent called out my name. And there was a simultaneous unzipping of the entrance to the tent. I responded, but before I knew it a member of the culinary staff crawled into the tent, bidding me hearty good morning and presented me with the choice or coffee or tea for my morning beverage. After I settled on coffee with lots of cream and sugar, he was on his way to make another trekker happy.
My personal porter showed up shortly thereafter with a warm basin of water for me to freshen up. After enjoying my coffee and freshening up, I packed my duffle bag and knapsack, placed them with my trekking poles in the vestibule of the tent from where the porter retrieved them and placed them with those of the other trekkers. After freshening up I headed to breakfast in the dining tent. This would be the morning routine for the entire journey. After breakfast it was time to hit the trail again. Porters loaded duffle bags which were placed in waterproof coverings onto their heads. Trekkers grabbed their knapsacks and poles and began the second day of climbing.
The second day’s sojourn was a steep climb of six hours that taxed each trekker’s energy reserve. Every so often the chief guide or one of the assistants reminded us: “Pole, pole,” slowly, slowly, simultaneously exhorting us to drink plenty of water. We continued our climb out of the rainforest, taking needed rest breaks and catching occasional glimpses of the snow-streaked Kibo Peak at strategic points along the route. The thick canopy of the rainforest at times blocked out the sunlight, creating a surreal environment. Birds whistled in the distance and the howling of monkeys pierced the atmosphere.
As we made our way to higher altitudes the rainforest began to thin noticeably. By late afternoon we had actually climbed above the clouds and the thick, lush green canopy of the rainforest. We stopped for a brief while at a resting spot populated by black crows with thick curved beaks and white spots on their necks, called White Necked Ravens by natives.
The surface of the ground changed from mud to a composite of dust and volcanic rock. And the trees of the rainforest were replaced by heather and tall grasses. This was the second discernible change in the five climate zones that we would encounter on the way to the summit. Looking out across the horizon the view was spectacular. Clouds were in abundance on this particular day. As they blew across the mountain they wrapped themselves around us, providing cooling from the heat our bodies generated during the tough climb.
Kilimanjaro is a strato-volcano consisting of three separate peaks. After arriving at Shira Plateau, an expansive and relatively flat plain covering the crater of the lowest of the three peaks, we made our way to Shira One camp nestled among the heather and tall grasses. At the end of the second day we had attained a height of 11, 499 feet.
After being directed to my tent by my personal porter, I crawled inside, pulled off my boots with the assistance of the porter, plopped my haggard frame across the sleeping bag and took a nap to regain a measure of strength that was expended during the long haul. I was shortly thereafter provided with coffee, and warm water to freshen up. I later enjoyed a nutritious evening meal in the dining tent and participated in the nightly briefing by the head guide and his assistants. I could hardly wait to turn in for a night of needed sleep at the conclusion of the briefing.